Opinion

Keep the ball rolling: The UK's goal should be bouncing back from failure

5 min read

12 November 2018

A dose of resilience will prove Britain is not a nation of shopkeepers, but a country of confident entrepreneurs.

I can’t say I’ve ever got round to leafing my way through Adam Smith’s A Wealth of Nations. He’s the Scottish philosopher who coined the phrase “Britain is a nation of shopkeepers” in his 1776 doorstop.

The book itself explores what it is that drives a country to prosperity.

Plumbing as an industry was still finding its feet back then, so I may have had to turn my hand to something else altogether – but even I could have told Smith it’s down to a good business idea combined with determination and plenty of hard graft.

Maybe Britain was a nation of shopkeepers at that time, but – as many a high street business can testify – that is no longer the case.

However, we do remain a true nation of entrepreneurs.

This view is backed by a survey by PeoplePerHour, which reckons 71% of those employed in Britain are considering starting their own business or turning freelance.

That, my friends, is a staggering 23 million people.

Their reasons are many and varied, but much of it is down to taking control of the future. The survey also reveals that people no longer have a passion for their job, while others are simply demotivated.

All successful entrepreneurs – that includes yours truly – still possess that passion; a burning desire to succeed that drives us on to bigger and better things.

Some might find it hard to generate enthusiasm for a closet flange, condenser boiler or bottom-entry brass shank fill valve, but it’s much more than that.

I’m not just passionate about plumbing. It’s about delivering the very best service to customers and ensuring those who work for Pimlico Plumbers share my enthusiasm. Above all, I hope employees enjoy what they do.

I find it encouraging that there are 23 million potential entrepreneurs out there who possess that same spark and are willing to give a go.

However, the real test is how many can scale their businesses up to create a regional, national or even global success story.

The problems and obstacles are many. The key challenges involve securing the right finance, creating a strong business plan, recruiting talent and being willing to accept advice and support.

Figures released by the Office of National Statistics reveal the number of new UK businesses between 2015 and 2016 rose from 383,000 to 414,000. But those which failed in the same period also went up from 283,000 to 328,000.

Numerous people are ready to pursue their vision, with the courage to accept the risks and venture out on their own. Sadly, the number of failing businesses highlights that we don’t always succeed the first time and entrepreneurs need to learn from their mistakes.

My advice is “don’t give up”, stick to your guns, learn the valuable lessons, accept the positives and move on.

When embarking on a business venture, there are very few who know it all. Most must make a leap of faith.

To reduce the chances of failure, turn to a business mentor, continue the learning process and accept the experience and advice of those who have been there and done it.

Most of all, don’t be put off. Last year there were 5.7 million businesses in the UK, of which 99% were SMEs employing up to 249 people. That is the gap which must be crossed if we are to generate a new age of prosperity.

Even if a small percentage of those 23 million people considering a startup achieve success, that could trigger a new 21st-century version of a ‘Wealth of Nations’ and prove we are indeed not a nation of shopkeepers, but a confident nation of entrepreneurs.